6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

The Uncertain Transition Away From Coal—Stories from China and the United States

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

After many years of U.S.-China collaboration on clean energy and greenhouse gas mitigation, the world’s two largest energy consumers have found themselves at the crossroads and taking different paths. The Trump administration has demonstrated an intent to funnel new policy support toward coal fired power, which is struggling to compete with low natural gas prices in the U.S., and to cut back programs that encourage renewables. China, while still expected to lead the world in coal consumption for the foreseeable future, is undergoing a massive transformation in its coal sector that extends from the mines to the power plants. China’s experience suggests that a new U.S. coal boom likely would not produce the benefits the Trump administration is anticipating. At the same time, coal sectors are transitioning toward new, more efficient technologies that address some of the negative externalities from coal but also bring more automation to the sector, which reduces jobs, and renewable jobs are booming in both nations.

 

At the end of 2016, the United States had a total of 54,030 coal sector employees nationwide and between 2015 and 2016, the country added 73,615 new jobs in solar energy generation bringing the total number of U.S. solar energy generation jobs to 373,807. The expanding jobs in solar, wind, and other renewables in the United States are greater than those for coal, oil, and gas industries combined. In China, as the government is slashing both small-scale inefficient coal mines and large-scale “zombie” coal companies as part of a managed gradual decline in coal capacity, Beijing expects to lay off 1.3 million coal workers but gain 13 million new renewable energy jobs by 2020.

 

Speakers at this July 12th China Environmental Forum (CEF) event will discuss the massive reforms that are lessening the pollution and carbon emissions from China’s coal-fired power sector and the social and economic challenges China must address as it moves away from fossil fuels. Drawing on the recently published report Everything You Think You Know About Coal in China is Wrong, Melanie Hart (Center for America Progress) will speak on how China is transforming its coal sector to improve efficiency, reduce emissions, and reduce the nation’s dependence on coal. CAP is conducting new data analysis to compare U.S. versus Chinese coal plants and is finding that China’s new ultra-supercritical plants are cleaner than anything operating in the United States.

 

 Hongxia Duan and Lucy Kitson of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) will discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of such a large-scale transformation in Shanxi and the lessons China can draw from countries that have undergone the economic and social transition away from coal. In partnership with the Energy Research Institute of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, IISD has undertaken a first-of-its kind study of impacts of the phase out of coal subsidies and coalmine restructuring in Shanxi, one of China’s three main coal-mining regions where the challenges of transitions are expected to be the most severe. Lisa Abbott (Kentuckians for the Commonwealth) will close out the discussion bringing in a comparative discussion on how her group promotes energy diversification in the Appalachians that keeps communities strong.

 

Co-sponsored by the China Environment Forum and Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

Speakers

  • Melanie Hart

    Senior Fellow and Director of China Policy, Center for American Progress
  • Lucy Kitson

    Research Officer and Economist, International Institute for Sustainable Development
  • Hongxia Duan

    Senior Advisor, International Institute for Sustainable Development
  • Lisa Abbott

    Community Organizer, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth